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Three Mo’ Tenors, devoted to African-American performers, was inspired by the Carreras/ Domingo/Pavarotti troika and is dedicated to the late Luciano, yet anyone expecting an evening primarily of opera is headed for disappointment. The arias are dispatched at the outset, as if they are something to be got through quickly so as not to scare off those who have come for the rest of the repertoire: Broadway, jazz, blues, soul, new-school, spirituals and gospel.
While such programming may make a certain commercial sense, it weakens the musical connections. I lit up when I realised that a three-note progression from “Questa o quella”, from Rigoletto, recurs in the evening’s second-act soul section, and I kept wondering if I might have made even more such linkages if the show’s creator/director, Marion J. Caffey, had intermingled the genres more freely.
If the rather strict separation belies the idea that good music is good music and that boundaries exist primarily for scholars, the range of styles is certainly a feast for the audience. The soul and new-school medleys were especially popular; by that point, the singers’ voices, which had been a little top-note-tight at the start, had fully relaxed, and their dance moves echoed the sonic easing.
Three Mo’ Tenors has two casts, with a handful of song differences between them. My trio consisted of the warm, reedy sounding Ramone Diggs, whose “I Believe in You and Me” achieved the minor miracle of not making me think too much of Whitney Houston; Kenneth Alston Jr, whose impressive “Ombra mai fu” proved that the show’s title was a slight fluke, since Alston is, by training, a counter-tenor; and Phumzile Sojola, who is a South African unafraid to risk the heartiness that his girth stereotypically suggests.
If this evening is a solid showcase for its stars’ abilities, it falters in the Broadway and blues sections, where the singers’ classical training acts as a straitjacket that no amount of bow-tie loosening can remedy.
That leaves high marks in opera, jazz, soul, new-school, spiritual and gospel. Even Pavarotti in his crossover days didn’t have that range. And among black singers of any type, only Ray Charles, the subject of a tribute section here, was as versatile. More so, perhaps: he could do country. (That’s not a programme hint, guys.)